St. Kate’s libraries host “Read Out” September 30
St. Catherine University libraries are hosting a Read-Off Against Censorship on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m., in The Pulse, inside the student center, Coeur de Catherine. The event is part of Banned Books Week (Sept. 27–Oct. 3), a national effort to raise awareness about censorship.
“We’re taking the opportunity to remind people that we need to stand up for our freedom to read, because it can be taken away if we don’t defend this right,” says Amy Mars, literacy & outreach librarian at St. Catherine University.
Students, faculty, staff and alumnae will read favorite passages from banned and challenged books. There’s still time to sign-up in advance to participate. Interested attendees can also just show up and decide during the event whether they want a turn at the mic.
“It’s really low-barrier. We’re not expecting epic speeches. We’re simply asking participants to read from a book that has been banned or challenged in the past, and share what that book means to them,” adds Mars.
On the forefront of the fight
Launched in 1982 by the American Library Association (ALA), Banned Books Week partners also include publishers, booksellers and the Comic Alliance.
This year Banned Books Week has a young adult (YA) focus because YA books are the most challenged in school libraries. In 2014, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom received 311 reports of attempts to remove or restrict materials from school libraries or curricula. And a whopping eighty percent of the 2014 Top 10 List of Frequently Challenged Books reflect diverse authors and cultural content.
This reality is unfortunate, considering that adolescence is a time for youth to discover who they are while making sense of the world around them, says Mars.
“Sometimes youth will turn to books,” she adds. “Books can be a mirror or a window — a mirror in the sense that if they are feeling different or out of place, they can read about people like them — and a window in the sense of opening up their worldview.”
While school libraries and public libraries face the most challenges, Mars says academic libraries are not immune.
Earlier this year, a Crafton Hills College student challenged four graphic novels in an English course that met graduation requirements. College officials initially agreed to add a warning to the course catalog, but later reversed the decision.
“As librarians, we’re at the forefront of this because we face thousands of books being challenged every year,” says Mars. “Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right. Our ability to exercise this right is part of what makes this country great.”
A book for every reader
Librarians like Mars follow the mantra “for every book there’s a reader, for every reader there’s a book,” and very thoughtfully and intentionally purchase a range of books that can connect with a diverse population. An important action, considering that Toni Morrison is a frequently challenged and banned author.
"This is someone who won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize for Literature, yet people are constantly challenging her books, which do deal with difficult, but important themes,” says Mars.
She points to Dav Pilkey, creator of the Captain Underpants series, as having a positive, eloquent approach in responding to challenges. Pilky’s series was in the top frequently challenged books for the two consecutive years, 2012–2013. In a video created for Banned Book Week 2014, Pilky suggests:
How can you show your concern without undermining the freedoms of everyone around you? It’s easy. All you have to do is make a simple change. The next time you find yourself thinking ‘I don’t want children to read this book’ just make a simple change to ‘I don’t want MY children to read this book.’ One tiny adjective can make all the difference. The next time you start to think ‘that book does not belong in the library’ just make a simple change to ‘that book does not belong in my home.’
Mars likes to add that just like we have the right to practice the freedom to read what we choose, we also have the right to practice the freedom to not read books we choose, “but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and be open to different worldviews and opinions.”
Have a favorite banned or challeged book you'd like to read from at the event? Sign up here.